It is our intention to serialize in the issues to come the account of a two-month travel across the United States of America, undertaken in 1935 by the Russia's best-known pair of literary collaborators, Ilya Ilf and Eugene Petrov.

In all, the book has forty seven chapters, which means it'll take us almost eight years to present it in whole, if we continue to publish it one chapter per issue.

Who knows, maybe by that time, we won't be infringing on anyone's copyrights.

If you want to find out more about Ilf & Petrov, our collaborative archive might be a good place to start.

 

PART ONE

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

PART TWO

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

A note to fans of Little Golden America: as of issue No. 22, Admit Two adopted a PDF format, which means you will have to access individual back issues to get to further chapters of Ilf and Petrov's American adventure.

 

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Little Golden America

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TWO FAMOUS SOVIET HUMORISTS

SURVEY  THESE   UNITED  STATES

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by

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ILYA ILF AND EUGENE PETROV

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Authorized Translation from the Russian

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by

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CHARLES MALAMUTH

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Illustrated

by

GEORG HARTMANN

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F A R R A R    &    R I N E H A R T,    I N C .

NEW YORK                                                       TOTONTO

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The original Russian title of this books is

ODNOETAZHNAYA AMERIKA

(ONE-STORIED AMERICA)

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COPYRIGHT, 1937, BY FARRAR & REINHART, INC.

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

BY THE FERRIS PRINTING COMPANY, NEW YORK

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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Part One…

 …From a Twent-Seventh-Story Window

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One…

                                         …The Normandie

 

 

At nine o’clock a special train leaves Paris for Le Havre with pas-

sengers for the Normandie. This train makes no stops. Three hours after

its departure it rolls into the large structure which is in the Havre mari-

time station. Here the passengers descend to a shut-in platform, are

lifted by escalators to the upper floor of the station, walk through halls

and along passage ways, all completely enclosed, and finally find them-

selves in a large vestibule where they take their places in elevators and

depart for their various desks. At last they are on the Normandie. They

have not the slightest idea what it looks like, for throughout this journey

they have not even caught a glimpse of its outer contours.

We, too, walked into an elevator. A lad in a red tunic with gold but-

tons gracefully lifted his arm and pressed a knob. The shining new ele-

vator rose a little, stopped and suddenly moved down, paying no heed

whatever to the uniformed operator who desperately continued to press

the knob. After falling three floors instead of rising two, we heard the

painfully familiar phrase – on this occasion pronounced in impeccable

French: “The elevator is out of order!”

We took the stairway to our cabin, a stairway covered throughout

with a noninflammable rubber carpet of bright green. The corridors and

vestibules of the ship were covered with the same carpeting, which makes

each footfall soft and soundless. But one does not fully appreciate the

merits of rubber carpeting until the ship begins to roll in earnest. Then

the carpeting seems to grip the soles. True, that does not save one from

being seasick, but it does keep one from falling.

The stairway was not at all of the steamship type. It was broad, slant-

ing, with runs and landings of dimensions generous enough for a

mansion.

The cabin was likewise quite unsteamerlike. A specious room with

two ample windows, two broad wooden beds, easy chairs, wall closets,

tables, mirrors – in fact, all the blessings of a communal dwelling, even

unto a telephone.

Only in a storm does the Normandie resemble a ship, but in good

weather it is a  large hotel, with a sweeping view of the ocean, which,

having suddenly torn loose from its moorings in a modern seaside health

resort, is floating away at the rate of thirty-odd knots an hour.

Down below, from the platform of the various floors of the station

people who were seeing the passengers off shouted their final good

wishes and farewells. They shouted in French, in English, in Spanish.

They also shouted in Russian. A strange chap in a black seafaring uni-

form with a silver anchor and a shield of David on one sleeve, a beret

on his head and a sad little beard on his chin, was shouting something

in Jewish. Later we learned that he was the ship’s rabbi; the General

Transatlantic Company had engaged him to minister to the spiritual

needs of a certain portion of its passengers. Other passengers had at

their disposal Catholic and Protestant priests. Muslims, fire worshipers,

and Soviet engineers traveled without benefit of clergy; on that score

the General Transatlantic Company left them entirely to their own

devices.

The  Normandie has a spacious church with dim electric lights; it is

designed primarily for Catholic services, but maybe adjusted to suit

other denominational needs. Thus, the alter and the icons may be cov-

ered with special shield designed for that purpose and the Catholic

church converted automatically into a Protestant house of worship. As

for the rabbi of the sad little beard, there being no available room for

him, the children’s nursery was assigned for the performance of his

rites. Whereupon the company provided him with a tallith and even

with special drapery for covering temporarily the mundane representa-

tions of bunnies and kittens.

The ship left the harbor. On the pier, at the mole, everywhere were

crowds of people. The Normandie was still a novelty to the citizens

of Le Havre. They foregathered from all corners of the city to greet

the transatlantic titan and bid it bon voyage.

But the French shore was finally lost in the smoky mists of the murky

day. Toward evening we already saw the lights of Southampton. For

an hour and a half the Normandie stood in its roadstead there, taking

on passengers from England, surrounded on three sides by the distant

and mysterious lights of a strange city. Then again she put out to sea,

and again began the seething tumult of unseen waves aroused by tem-

pestuous winds.

In the stern, where we were located, everything trembled. The deck

and the walls and the lights and the easy chairs and the glasses on the

washstand and the washstand itself trembled. The ship’s vibration was

so pronounced that even objects form which one did not expect any

sound made a noise. For the first time we heard the sound of towels,

soap, the carpet on the floor, the paper on the table, the electric bulb,

the curtain, the collar thrown on the bed. Everything in the cabin

resounded, and some things even thundered. If a passenger became

thoughtful for a moment and relaxed his facial muscles, his teeth at

once begin to chatter of their own free will. All through the night it

seemed to us that someone was trying to brake down the door of our

cabin and someone else was constantly rapping at our windowpane

and laughing ominously. We discovered no less than a hundred differ-

ent sounds inside our cabin.

The Normandie was on its tenth voyage between Europe and Amer-

ica. It was scheduled to go into dry dock after its eleventh trip, when

its stern would be taken apart and the structural deficiencies that caused

vibration eliminated.

In the morning a sailor came into our cabin and closed its windows

with metal shutters. A storm was rising. A small freighter was having

a difficult time making its way to the French shore. At times it disap-

peared in the waves, only the tips of its mast remaining visible.

We had always expected to find the ocean roadway between the Old

and New worlds quite lively with traffic. Now and then we imagined,

we would come across ships blaring music and waving flags. But we

found the ocean a grandiosely deserted expanse. The little boat that

we saw bucking the storm four hundred miles from Europe was the

only ship we passed during the entire five days of our crossing. The

Normandie rolled with slow and dignified deliberateness. It steamed

ahead, never decreasing its accustomed speed, nonchalantly flinging aside

the high waves that attacked it on all sides. Here was no unequal struggle be-

tween some miserable contraption fashioned by man’s hand and the

unbridled forces of nature. It was rather a contest between well-matched

titans.

In a semicircular smoking saloon three famous wrestlers with cauli-

flower ears were sitting with their coats off, playing cards. Shirts bulged

out from under their vests. They were in throes of painful thinking.

Huge cigars dangled from their mouths. At another table two men

played chess, every minute adjusting the chessmen that kept sliding off

the board. Two others, their chins cupped in the palms of their hands,

watched the chess game. Who but Soviet folk would ever think of play-

ing the queen’s gambit in such weather? We guessed it: the charming

Botvinniks proved to be Soviet engineers.

In time people met one another and formed congenial groups. A printed

list of passengers was distributed. There we found a very amusing sur-

name: Sandwich – a whole family of Sandwiches, Mr. Sandwich, Mrs.

Sandwich, and young Master Sandwich.

We entered the Gulf Stream. A warm rain drizzled. In the oppress-

sive hothouse atmosphere hung the heavy sediment of the oily smoke

that the Normandie’s smokestacks belched forth.

We set out to inspect the ship. A third-class passenger does not see

much of the boat on which he travels. He is not allowed either into the

first or into the tourist class. Nor does the tourist-class passenger see

much more of the Normandie, for he likewise is not permitted to tress-

pass certain limits. But the first-class passenger is the Normandie. He

occupies no less than nine-tenths of the entire ship. Everything is im-

mense in the first class – the promenade decks, the lounges, the saloons

for smoking and the saloons for playing cards, and the saloons espe-

cially for ladies, and a hothouse where fat little French swallows swing

on glass branches and hundreds of orchids hang from the ceiling, and

the theatre with its four hundred seats, and the swimming pool full of

water illuminated through its bottom with green electric lights, and the

marketing square with its department store, and the saloons for sport

where elderly bald-headed gentlemen, flat on their backs, play ball with

their feet, and other saloons where the same bald-headed men, tired

of tossing balls and jumping up and down on a cinder-path platform,

dream in embroidered easy chairs; above all immense is the carpet that

covers the main saloon, for surely it weighs more than half a ton.

Even the smokestacks of the Normandie, which one might think

would belong to the entire ship, are reserved exclusively for the first

class. In one of them the dogs of the first-class passengers are kept.

Beautiful pedigreed dogs, bored to the verge of madness, stand in their

Cages. Most of the time they are rocked to dizziness. Now and then they

are led out on a leash for a walk on a special deck reserved for them.

Then they bark uncertainly and regard the tossing ocean sadly.

We went into the galley. Scores of chefs were at work around a huge

electric stove. Scores of others were dressing fowl, carving fish, baking

bread, rearing tortes. In a special department kosher food was being

prepared. Occasionally the steamship’s rabbi would come down here to

make sure that the gay French chefs did not throw bits of the unortho-

dox trefa into this sequestered food.

The Normandie is reputed to be a masterpiece of French tech-

nique and art. Its technique is indeed splendid. Admirable are its speed,

its fire-fighting system, the bold and elegant lines of its body, its radio

station. But as for art, surely the French have known better days. There

were, of course, the faultlessly executed paintings on the glass walls;

but the paintings themselves were not in any way distinguished. The

same might be said of the bas-relief, the mosaic, the sculpture, the fur-

niture. There was a profusion of gold, of colored leather, of beautiful

metals, silks, expensive wood, fine glass. There was much wealth but

little real art. As a whole, it was what French artists, helplessly shrug-

ging their shoulders, called “stile triomphe”. Not long ago in Paris, on

the Champs-Elysees, was opened a Café Triomphe, sumptuously uphol-

stered in the boudoir manner. A pity! We should like to have seen as

partners of the remarkable French engineers who created the Nor-

mandie equally remarkable French artists and architects. All the more is

the pity since France has such people.

Certain defects in technique – for example, the vibration in the stern,

which threw the elevator out of commission for half an hour – and other

annoying trifles must be charged not against the engineers who built

this first-rate ship, but rather against the impatient orders of their cli-

ents who were in a hurry to begin exploiting the ship under any cir-

cumstances in order to secure a blue ribbon for record speed.

On the eve of the ship’s arrival in New York there was a gala ban-

quet and an evening of amateur entertainment managed by the pas-

sengers themselves. The dinner was the same as ever, except that a

spoonful of Russian caviar was added. Besides that, the passengers

were given pirate hats of paper, rattles, badges with blue ribbons on

which “Normandie” was inscribed, and wallets of artificial leather, also

with the trademark of the company. Gifts are distributed to prevent

pilfering of the ship’s property. The point is, the majority of travelers

are victims of the psychosis of collecting souvenirs. During the Nor-

mandie’s first voyage the passengers stole as mementoes a huge quantity

of knives, forks, and spoons. Some even carried away plates, ash trays,

and pitchers. So, it proved more convenient to make a gift of a badge

for a buttonhole rather than to lose a spoon needed in the ménage. The

passengers were overjoyed with these toys. A fat lady, who throughout

the five days of the journey had sat in a corner of the dining saloon

all alone, suddenly in a most businesslike manner put the pirate hat

on her head, discharged her popgun, and attached the badge to her

bosom. Evidently she regarded it as her duty to take advantage con-

scientiously of all the blessings she was entitled to by virtue of her

ticket.

The petty-bourgeois amateur entertainment began in the evening.

The passengers gathered in the saloon. The lights were put out, and a

Spotlight was trained on a small stage. There, her entire body trem-

Bling, appeared a haggard young woman in a silver dress. The orches-

Tra, made up of professional musicians, regarded her with pity. The

audience applauded encouragingly. The young lady opened her mouth

convulsively and shut it at once. The orchestra patiently repeated the

introduction. Sensing forebodings of something frightful, the auditors

tried not to look at each other. Suddenly the young lady trembled and

began to sing. She sang that famous song, “Parlez-moi d’amour,” but

she sang it so quietly and so badly that her tender call was not heard

by anyone. In the middle of the song she quite unexpectedly ran off

the stage, hiding her face in her hand. Another young lady appeared,

and she was even more haggard. She was in an all-black dress, yet

barefooted. Sheer fright was written all over her face. She was a bare-

foot amateur dancer. The audience began to glide out of the hall stealth-

ily. None of this was at all like our buoyant, talented, vociferous ama-

teur entertainments.

On the fifth day the decks of the steamer were filled with suitcases

and trunks unloaded out of the cabins. The passengers moved to the

right side, and, holding on to their hats, avidly peered into the horizon.

The shore was not yet visible, but New York’s skyscrapers were already

rising out of the water like calm pillars of smoke. An astounding con-

trast, this – after the vacant ocean, suddenly the largest city in the world.

In the sunny smoke dimly gleamed the steel extremities of the hundred-

and-two-storied Empire State Building. Beyond the stern of the Nor-

mandie seagulls swirled. Four powerful little tugboats began to turn

the enormous body of the ship, pulling it up and pushing it toward

the pier. On the left side was the small green statue of liberty. Then

suddenly it was on the right side. We were being turned around, and

the city turned around us, showing us first one and then another of

its sides. Finally, it stopped in its tracks, impossibly huge, thunderous,

and quite incomprehensible as yet.

The passengers walked down covered passageways into the customs

shed, went through all the formalities, and emerged into the streets of

the city, without having once seen the ship on which they had come.